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Conflicts of interest in climate science

By Judith Curry | Climate Etc. | February 25, 2015

Once you tug on the thread of undisclosed financial interests in climate science, you’ll find it more a norm than exception. – Roger Pielke Jr (tweet)

Context

I started working on this post last week, in response to the Willie Soon imbroglio. This whole issue has now become personal.

In case you haven’t been following this, Justin Gillis broke the story on Willie Soon with this article Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher.  The Smithsonian issued the following statement on the issue of Soon’s funding and apparent failure to disclose this funding in journal publications.   Science Magazine has a summary [here] and Nature has a summary [here].

The ‘plot’ thickened yesterday, as Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva (Democrat) Asks for Conflict-of-Interest Disclosures from GOP’s Go-To Climate Witnesses [link]. Excerpts:

The conflict-of-interest scandal involving a climate denier secretly funded by the fossil-fuel industry is spreading to other academics who oppose regulation of climate pollution. A top House Democrat has issued letters asking several researchers who have appeared as Republican witnesses before Congress questioning climate science to disclose their funding sources.

“I am hopeful that disclosure of a few key pieces of information will establish the impartiality of climate research and policy recommendations published in your institution’s name and assist me and my colleagues in making better law,” Grijalva wrote. “Companies with a direct financial interest in climate and air quality standards are funding environmental research that influences state and federal regulations and shapes public understanding of climate science. These conflicts should be clear to stakeholders, including policymakers who use scientific information to make decisions. My colleagues and I cannot perform our duties if research or testimony provided to us is influenced by undisclosed financial relationships.”

The letters request the institutions’ disclosure policies, drafts and communications relating to Congressional testimony, and sources of external funding for the academics in question.

The disclosure requests are needed because Congressional “truth in testimony” rules require witnesses to disclose government funding sources, but not private or corporate funding. Under Republican control, the rules are unevenly implemented, with not-for-profit witnesses required to submit pages of additional disclosures, while corporate-sector witnesses are not.

The seven academics who dispute  the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming who have been asked to disclose their funding are:

David Legates, John Christy, Judith Curry, Richard Lindzen, Robert Balling, Roger Pielke Jr., Steven Hayward.

A copy of the letter from Grijalva that was sent to President Peterson of Georgia Tech is [here].

An article in ClimateWire provides additional context [link].

Skip to JC reflections for my punch line.

Conflict in scientific publication

Conflict of interest related to industry funding is a very big issue in biomedical research (related to drug and food safety) and also related to environmental contaminants.  It isn’t a big issue in other scientific fields.  Apart from expecting scientists to describe funding sources in the Acknowledgements, many journals don’t even have any conflict of interest disclosure requirements.

For those journals that do have such requirements, the requirements for disclosure are vastly different. As examples:

Nature :  In the interests of transparency and to help readers to form their own judgements of potential bias, Nature journals require authors to declare to the editors any competing financial interests in relation to the work described. The corresponding author is responsible for submitting a competing financial interests statement on behalf of all authors of the paper. Authors submitting their manuscripts using the journal’s online manuscript tracking system are required to make their declaration as part of this process and to specify the competing interests in cases where they exist. The definition of conflict of interest relates to funding sources, employment, and personal financial interests.

Science : Science goes further with this statement: Management/Advisory affiliations: Within the last 3 years, status as an officer, a member of the Board, or a member of an Advisory Committee of any entity engaged in activity related to the subject matter of this contribution. Please disclose the nature of these relationships and the financial arrangements. Within the last 3 years, receipt of consulting fees, honoraria, speaking fees, or expert testimony fees from entities that have a financial interest in the results and materials of this study.

Wow. I haven’t published anything in Science in recent years (and never as a first author). So, all those scientists serving on Boards of green advocacy groups [Climate Scientists Joining Green Advocacy Groups] who publish in Science on any environmental or climate change topic should be declaring a conflict of interest.

So, once an author of a climate change paper declares a conflict of interest, what is that supposed to mean?  An article in Science Magazine addresses this issue:

Conflict-of-interest controversies are rare in her field, she notes, and “they can be tricky.” Conflict is often in the eye of the beholder, she says, and researchers often accept all kinds of funding that doesn’t necessarily skew their peer-reviewed publications. “I’m for full disclosure,” she says, “but I’m not sure how we’re going to address this.” The journal, published by Elsevier, asks authors to fill out a conflict-of-interest disclosure. But Strangeway admits he’s never carefully examined one—and isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do if he sees a red flag.  “We wouldn’t be raising the journal issue if [Soon] had simply disclosed Southern’s support,” he says.

Scientific journals are being alerted by watchdog groups to fossil fuel funding of contrarian climate studies [link]. Are we not to be concerned by fossil fuel funding of consensus climate science (there is plenty of that, see below)? Are we not to be concerned by funding from green advocacy groups and scientists serving on the Boards of green advocacy groups?

DeSmog surprised me with this article:  How often were Willie Soon’s Industry-funded Deliverables Were Referenced by the IPCC?  I was surprised to find that published journal papers with ties to industry made it into the IPCC, to counter all those gray literature articles by Greenpeace et al.

So, in climate science, what is the point of conflict of interest disclosure?  Bishop Hill sums it up this way:

As far as I can see, the story is that Soon and three co-authors published a paper on climate sensitivity. At the same time (or perhaps in the past – this being a smear-job it’s hard to get at the facts) he was being funded  to do work on things like the solar influence on climate by people that greens feel are the baddies. They and the greens feel he should have disclosed that baddies were paying him to do stuff on a paper that was not funded by the baddies.

The issue is this. The intense politicization of climate science makes bias more likely to be coming from political and ideological perspectives than from funding sources.  Unlike research related to food and drug safety and environmental contaminants, most climate science is easily replicable using publicly available data sets and models.  So all this IMO is frankly a red herring in the field of climate science research.

Bottom line:  Scientists, pay attention to conflict of interest guidelines for journals to which you are submitting papers.  Select journals that have COI disclosure requirements that are consistent with your comfort level.

Conflict in Testimony

The HillHeat article provides links to the relevant testimony by the 7 individuals (see original article for actual links):

  • David Legates, Department of Agricultural Economics & Statistics, University of Delaware climatologist (6/3/14, 7/29/03, 3/13/02)
  • John Christy, University of Alabama atmospheric scientist (12/11/13, 9/20/12, 8/1/12, 3/31/11, 3/8/11, 2/25/09, 7/27/06 (video), 5/13/03, 5/2/01, 5/17/00, 7/10/97)
  • Judith Curry, Georgia Institute of Technology climatologist (1/16/14, 4/25/13, 11/17/10)
  • Richard Lindzen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology atmospheric physicist (11/17/10, 5/2/01, 7/10/97, 1991 (Senate), 10/8/91)
  • Robert C Balling Jr, Arizona State University geographer (3/6/96; North Carolina Legislature 3/20/06)
  • Roger Pielke Jr, University of Colorado political scientist (12/11/13, 7/18/13, 3/8/11, 5/16/07, 1/30/07 (video), 7/20/06, 3/13/02)
  • Steven Hayward, School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University historian (5/25/11, 10/7/09, 4/22/09, 3/12/09, 3/17/99)

HOLD ON.  The article ‘forgot’ to reference my earlier testimony for the Democrats in 2006, 2007:

  • House Committee on Govt Reform, “Hurricanes and Global Warming,” 7/20/06 [link]
  • House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, “Dangerous Climate Change,” 4/26/07 [link]

I can see that this earlier testimony is ‘inconvenient’ to their argument.

When you testify, you are required to include a financial disclosure related to your government funding. Presumably this is relevant if you are testifying with relation to performance by a government agency.  There is no disclosure requirement that is relevant to individuals from industry or advocacy groups, or for scientists receiving funding from industry or advocacy groups.

To clarify my own funding, I have included the following statement of financial interests at the end of my testimony:

Funding sources for Curry’s research have included NSF, NASA, NOAA, DOD and DOE. Recent contracts for CFAN include a DOE contract to develop extended range regional wind power forecasts and a DOD contract to predict extreme events associated with climate variability/change having implications for regional stability. CFAN contracts with private sector and other non-governmental organizations include energy and power companies, reinsurance companies, other weather service providers, NGOs and development banks. Specifically with regards to the energy and power companies, these contracts are for medium-range (days to weeks) forecasts of hurricane activity and landfall impacts. CFAN has one contract with an energy company that also includes medium-range forecasts of energy demand (temperature), hydropower generation, and wind power generation. CFAN has not received any funds from energy companies related to climate change or any topic related to this testimony.

I note that during congressional questioning, I was never asked anything about my funding sources.

Again, I think that biases in testimony related to climate change are more likely to be ideological and political than related to funding.

So what is the point of asking for detailed financial information (including travel) from these academic researchers?

Intimidation and harassment is certainly one reason that comes to mind. Roger Pielke Jr seems to think this is the case, as described in his blog post I am Under Investigation:

I have no funding, declared or undeclared, with any fossil fuel company or interest. I never have. Representative Grijalva knows this too, because when I have testified before the US Congress, I have disclosed my funding and possible conflicts of interest. So I know with complete certainty that this investigation is a politically-motivated “witch hunt” designed to intimidate me (and others) and to smear my name.

The relevant issue to my mind is to expect non-normative testimony from academic researchers. I discussed this issue on a previous blog post Congressional testimony and normative science. Consensus climate scientists routinely present normative testimony, along the lines of ‘urgent mitigation action needed’.   On the other hand, I personally work to make my testimony non-normative, and I would judge Christy’s and Pielke Jr’s  testimony to be generally non-normative also (note Christy and Pielke Jr are the two on the list of 7 that I know best).

‘Dirty’ money?

The issue of concern of Congressman Grijalva is funding from the Koch brothers and fossil fuel companies somehow contaminating Congressional testimony from scientists invited by Republicans to testify.

The reality is that fossil fuel money is all over climate research, whether pro or con AGW.  Gifts of $100M+ have been made by oil companies to Stanford and Princeton.  Anthony Watts notes the prominence of oil companies in funding the American Geophysical Union [link]. The Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy take fossil fuel money [link]. The UKMetOffice has stated that energy companies are major customers.

NRO has an article Follow the Money, excerpt:

In truth, the overwhelming majority of climate-research funding comes from the federal government and left-wing foundations. And while the energy industry funds both sides of the climate debate, the government/foundation monies go only toward research that advances the warming regulatory agenda. With a clear public-policy outcome in mind, the government/foundation gravy train is a much greater threat to scientific integrity.

With federal research funding declining in many areas, academics at universities are being encouraged to obtain funding from industry.

I have to say I was pretty intrigued by Soon’s funding from the Southern Company. Southern Company (SoCo) provides power to Georgia.  Georgia Power (a SoCo subsidiary) has provided considerable funding to Georgia Tech (although I have never received any). For most of the time that I was Chair, the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences had an endowed Chair from Georgia Power. When the faculty member left Georgia Tech, I chose not to hire a replacement, since I felt that my faculty hiring funds would be more productively used on younger faculty members in different research areas.  I also note that one of my faculty members received funds from Georgia Power that was a ‘charitable donation’, without overhead and without deliverables. I also ‘heard’ that Southern Company/Georgia was very unhappy with the Webster et al. 2005 paper on hurricanes [link].   Note, I have received no funding from SoCo/GaPower.

JC reflections

My first reaction to this was to tweet:  Looks like I am next up in this ‘witch hunt’. My subsequent reactions have been slowed by a massive headache (literally; cause and effect?)

It looks like it is ‘open season’ on anyone who deviates even slightly from the consensus. The political motivations of all this are apparent from barackobama.com:  Call Out The Climate Deniers.

It is much easier for a scientist just to ‘go along’ with the consensus. In a recent interview, as yet unpublished, I was asked: I’ve seen some instances where you have been called a “denier” when it comes to climate change, I am just curious as to your opinion on that? My reply:

As a scientist, I am an independent thinker, and I draw my own conclusions about the evidence regarding climate change. My conclusions, particularly my assessments of high levels of uncertainty, differ from the ‘consensus’ of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Why does this difference in my own assessment relative to the IPCC result in my being labeled a ‘denier’? Well, the political approach to motivate action on climate change has been to ‘speak consensus to power’, which seems to require marginalizing and denigrating anyone who disagrees. The collapse of the consensus regarding cholesterol and heart disease reminds us that for scientific progress to occur, scientists need to continually challenge and reassess the evidence and the conclusions drawn from the evidence.

Well, the burden is on Georgia Tech to come up with all of the requested info. Georgia Tech has a very stringent conflict of interest policy, and I have worked  closely in the past with the COI office to manage any conflicts related to my company.  Apart from using up valuable resources at Georgia Tech to respond to this, there is no burden on me.

Other than an emotional burden. This is the first time I have been ‘attacked’ in a substantive way for doing my science honestly and speaking up about it. Sure, anonymous bloggers go after me, but I have received no death threats via email, no dead rats delivered to my door step, etc.

I think Grijalva has made a really big mistake in doing this.  I am wondering on what authority Grijalva is demanding this information? He is ranking minority member of a committee before which I have never testified. Do his colleagues in the Democratic Party support his actions? Are they worried about backlash from the Republicans, in going after Democrat witnesses?

I don’t think anything good will come of this. I anticipate that Grijalva will not find any kind of an undisclosed fossil fuel smoking gun from any of the 7 individuals under investigation. There is already one really bad thing that has come of this – Roger Pielke Jr has stated:

The incessant attacks and smears are effective, no doubt, I have already shifted all of my academic work away from climate issues. I am simply not initiating any new research or papers on the topic and I have ring-fenced my slowly diminishing blogging on the subject. I am a full professor with tenure, so no one need worry about me — I’ll be just fine as there are plenty of interesting, research-able policy issues to occupy my time. But I can’t imagine the message being sent to younger scientists. Actually, I can: “when people are producing work in line with the scientific consensus there’s no reason to go on a witch hunt.”

February 26, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science | , , , , | 4 Comments

Lewis and Crok: Climate less sensitive to CO2 than models suggest

By Judith Curry | Climate Etc. | March 5, 2014

Nic Lewis and Marcel Crok have published a new report on climate sensitivity.

The title of the report is “A sensitive matter: How the IPCC buried evidence showing good news about global warming.”  The report is published by the GWPF. The long version of the report is found [here]; a short version is found [here].

From the press release issued by the GWPF:

A new report published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation shows that the best observational evidence indicates our climate is considerably less sensitive to greenhouse gases than climate models are estimating.

The clues for this and the relevant scientific papers are all referred to in the recently published Fifth Assessment report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, this important conclusion was not drawn in the full IPCC report – it is only mentioned as a possibility – and is ignored in the IPCC’s Summary for Policymakers (SPM).

For over thirty years climate scientists have presented a range for climate sensitivity (ECS) that has hardly changed. It was 1.5-4.5°C in 1979 and this range is still the same today in AR5. The new report suggests that the inclusion of recent evidence, reflected in AR5, justifies a lower observationally-based temperature range of 1.25–3.0°C, with a best estimate of 1.75°C, for a doubling of CO2. By contrast, the climate models used for projections in AR5 indicate a range of 2-4.5°C, with an average of 3.2°C.

This is one of the key findings of the new report Oversensitive: how the IPCC hid the good news on global warming, written by independent UK climate scientist Nic Lewis and Dutch science writer Marcel Crok. Lewis and Crok were both expert reviewers of the IPCC report, and Lewis was an author of two relevant papers cited in it.

In recent years it has become possible to make good empirical estimates of climate sensitivity from observational data such as temperature and ocean heat records. These estimates, published in leading scientific journals, point to climate sensitivity per doubling of CO2 most likely being under 2°C for long-term warming, with a best estimate of only 1.3-1.4°C for warming over a seventy year period.

“The observational evidence strongly suggest that climate models display too much sensitivity to carbon dioxide concentrations and in almost all cases exaggerate the likely path of global warming,” says Nic Lewis.

These lower, observationally-based estimates for both long-term climate sensitivity and the seventy-year response suggest that considerably less global warming and sea level rise is to be expected in the 21st century than most climate model projections currently imply.

“We estimate that on the IPCC’s second highest emissions scenario warming would still be around the international target of 2°C in 2081-2100,” Lewis says.

I was asked to review this article prior to publication, and then was subsequently asked to write the foreword.  The text of my foreword:

The sensitivity of our climate to increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide is at the heart of the scientific debate on anthropogenic climate change, and also the public debate on the appropriate policy response to increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Climate sensitivity and estimates of its uncertainty are key inputs into the economic models that drive cost-benefit analyses and estimates of the social cost of carbon.

The complexity and nuances of the issue of climate sensitivity to increasing carbon dioxide are not easily discerned from reading the Summary for Policy Makers of the assessment reports undertaken by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Further, the more detailed discussion of climate sensitivity in the text of the fullWorking Group I reports lacks context or an explanation that is easily understood by anyone not actively reading the published literature.

This report by Nic Lewis andMarcel Crok addresses this gap between the IPCC assessments and the primary scientific literature, providing an overview of the different methods for estimating climate sensitivity and a historical perspective on IPCC’s assessments of climate sensitivity. The report also provides an independent assessment of the different methods for estimating climate sensitivity and a critique of the IPCC AR4 and AR5 assessments of climate sensitivity.

It emphasizes the point that evidence for low climate sensitivity is piling up. I find this report to be a useful contribution to scientific debate on this topic, as well as an important contribution to the public dialogue and debate on the subject of climate change policy.

I agreed to review this report and write this Foreword since I hold both authors of this report in high regard. I have followed with interest Nic Lewis’ emergence as an independent climate scientist and his success in publishing papers in major peer-reviewed journals on the topic of climate sensitivity, and I have endeavored to support and publicize his research. I have interacted with Marcel Crok over the years and appreciate his insightful analyses, most recently as a participant in climatedialogue.org.

The collaboration of these two authors in writing this report has resulted in a technically sound, well-organized and readily comprehensible report on the scientific issues surrounding climate sensitivity and the deliberations of the IPCC on this topic.

While writing this Foreword, I considered the very few options available for publishing a report such as this paper by Lewis and Crok. I am appreciative of the GWPF for publishing and publicizing this report. Public accountability of governmental and intergovernmental climate science and policy analysis is enhanced by independent assessments of their conclusions and arguments.

JC comments:  I did think twice about writing a foreword for a GWPF publication.  I try to stay away from organizations with political perspectives on global warming.  That said, GWPF has done some commendable things, notably pushing for inquiries into the Climategate affair.  And there really are very few options for publishing a report like this.

I think it is important to put forward alternative assessments of the key elements of the climate change debate — alternative to reports issued by the IPCC, the UK MetOffice, and the RS/NAS.

March 6, 2014 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Senate EPW Hearing on the President’s Climate Action Plan

By Judith Curry | Climate Etc. | January 16, 2014

The hearing is now concluded, I’m on a plane flying back to Atlanta.

The testimony from each of the witnesses is now online [here].  The link for my testimony is [here].

The content of my verbal remarks is below:

I would like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to present testimony this morning. I am Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. I have devoted 30 years to conducting research on topics including climate of the Arctic, the role of clouds and aerosols in the climate system, and the climate dynamics of extreme weather events.

The premise of the President’s Climate Action Plan is that there is an overwhelming judgment of science that anthropogenic global warming is already producing devastating impacts. Anthropogenic greenhouse warming is a theory whose basic mechanism is well understood, but whose magnitude is highly uncertain. Multiple lines of evidence presented in the recent IPCC 5th assessment report suggest that the case for anthropogenic warming is now weaker than in 2007, when the 4th assessment report was published.

My written testimony documented the following evidence:

  • For the past 16 years, there has been no significant increase in surface temperature. There is a growing discrepancy between observations and climate model projections. Observations since 2011 have fallen below the 90% envelope of climate model projections
  • The IPCC does not have a convincing or confident explanation for this hiatus in warming.
  • There is growing evidence of decreased climate sensitivity to atmospheric carbon dioxideconcentrations
  • Based on expert judgment in light of this evidence, the IPCC 5th assessment report lowered its surface temperature projection relative to the model projections for the period 2016-2036.

The growing evidence that climate models are too sensitive to CO2 has implications for the attribution of late 20th century warming and projections of 21st century climate change. Sensitivity of the climate to carbon dioxide, and the level of uncertainty in its value, is a key input into the economic models that drive cost-benefit analyses, including estimates of the social cost of carbon.

If the recent warming hiatus is caused by natural variability, then this raises the question as to what extent the warming between 1975 and 2000 can also be explained by natural climate variability. In a recent journal publication, I provided a rationale for projecting that the hiatus in warming could extend to the 2030’s. By contrast, according to climate model projections, the probability of the hiatus extending beyond 20 years is vanishing small.  If the hiatus does extend beyond 20 years, then a very substantial reconsideration will be needed of the 20th century attribution and the 21st century projections of climate change.

Attempts to modify the climate through reducing CO2 emissions may turn out to be futile. The stagnation in greenhouse warming observed over the past 15+ years demonstrates that CO2 is not a control knob that can fine tune climate variability on decadal and multi-decadal time scales. Even if CO2 mitigation strategies are successfully implemented and climate model projections are correct, an impact on the climate would not be expected for a number of decades. Further, solar variability, volcanic eruptions and natural internal climate variability will continue to be sources of unpredictable climate surprises.

As a result of the hiatus in warming, there is growing appreciation for the importance of natural climate variability on multi-decadal timescales.  Further, the IPCC AR5 and Special Report on Extreme Events published in 2012, find little evidence that supports an increase in most extreme weather events that can be attributed to humans.

The perception that humans are causing an increase in extreme weather events is a primary motivation for the President’s Climate Change Plan.  However, in the U.S., most types of weather extremes were worse in the 1930’s and even in the 1950’s than in the current climate, while the weather was overall more benign in the 1970’s. The extremes of the 1930’s and 1950’s are not attributable to greenhouse warming and are associated with natural climate variability (and in the case of the dustbowl drought and heat waves, also to land use practices). This sense that extreme weather events are now more frequent and intense is symptomatic of pre-1970 ‘weather amnesia’.

The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is heavily influenced by natural climate variability. Whether or not anthropogenic climate change is exacerbating extreme weather events, vulnerability to extreme weather events will continue to increase owing to increasing population and concentration of wealth in vulnerable regions. Regions that find solutions to current problems of climate variability and extreme weather events and address challenges associated with an increasing population are likely to be well prepared to cope with any additional stresses from climate change.

Nevertheless, the premise of dangerous anthropogenic climate change is the foundation for a far-reaching plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce vulnerability to extreme weather events. Elements of this Plan may be argued as important for associated energy policy reasons, economics, and/or public health and safety. However, claiming an overwhelming scientific justification for the Plan based upon anthropogenic global warming does a disservice both to climate science and to the policy process.

Good judgment requires recognizing that climate change is characterized by conditions of deep uncertainty. Robust policy options that can be justified by associated policy reasons whether or not anthropogenic climate change is dangerous avoids the hubris of pretending to know what will happen with the 21st century climate.

This concludes my testimony.

JC comments:   The hearing was very long; not so much because of questioning of the witnesses, but there was much pontification by the committee members (much more of this than on the House Subcommittees, it seems).

Several things struck me.  All of the members seem pretty well educated on the topic of climate change.  I cannot say the same of the administrators on the first panel.

Most of the members were there for Panel 1; only a few remained for Panel 2.

I’m fairly happy with my written testimony, but was surprised that my verbal testimony went over the time limit (have never gone over before).  The questions were fairly light weight.

Andrew Dessler did a pretty good job particularly on the verbal testimony and answering questions.

All in all, a very interesting experience, but stressful since you need to pretty much drop everything to prepare your testimony (and I have a pile of things that need to be finished before tomorrow).

So does any of this matter? We’ll see.  I felt that my previous testimony to the House Committee did have an impact.

January 18, 2014 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

20 tips for interpreting scientific claims

By Judith Curry | Climate Etc. | November 20, 2013

This list will help non-scientists to interrogate advisers and to grasp the limitations of evidence  – William J. Sutherland, David Spiegelhalter and Mark A. Burgman.

Nature has published a very interesting comment, titled Twenty tips for interpreting scientific evidence.  Excerpts:

Perhaps we could teach science to politicians? It is an attractive idea, but which busy politician has sufficient time? The research relevant to the topic of the day  is interpreted for them by advisers or external advocates.

In this context, we suggest that the immediate priority is to improve policy-makers’ understanding of the imperfect nature of science. The essential skills are to be able to intelligently interrogate experts and advisers, and to understand the quality, limitations and biases of evidence.

To this end, we suggest 20 concepts that should be part of the education of civil servants, politicians, policy advisers and journalists — and anyone else who may have to interact with science or scientists. Politicians with a healthy scepticism of scientific advocates might simply prefer to arm themselves with this critical set of knowledge.

Differences and chance cause variation. The real world varies unpredictably. Science is mostly about discovering what causes the patterns we see. Why is it hotter this decade than last?  There are many explanations for such trends, so the main challenge of research is teasing apart the importance of the process of interest  from the innumerable other sources of variation.

No measurement is exact. Practically all measurements have some error. If the measurement process were repeated, one might record a different result. In some cases, the measurement error might be large compared with real differences. Results should be presented with a precision that is appropriate for the associated error, to avoid implying an unjustified degree of accuracy.

Bias is rife. Experimental design or measuring devices may produce atypical results in a given direction. Confirmation bias arises when scientists find evidence for a favoured theory and then become insufficiently critical of their own results, or cease searching for contrary evidence.

Bigger is usually better for sample size. The average taken from a large number of observations will usually be more informative than the average taken from a smaller number of observations. That is, as we accumulate evidence, our knowledge improves. This is especially important when studies are clouded by substantial amounts of natural variation and measurement error.

Correlation does not imply causation. It is tempting to assume that one pattern causes another. However, the correlation might be coincidental, or it might be a result of both patterns being caused by a third factor — a ‘confounding’ or ‘lurking’ variable.

Regression to the mean can mislead. Extreme patterns in data are likely to be, at least in part, anomalies attributable to chance or error.

Extrapolating beyond the data is risky. Patterns found within a given range do not necessarily apply outside that range.

Scientists are human. Scientists have a vested interest in promoting their work, often for status and further research funding, although sometimes for direct financial gain. This can lead to selective reporting of results and occasionally, exaggeration. Peer review is not infallible: journal editors might favour positive findings and newsworthiness. Multiple, independent sources of evidence and replication are much more convincing.

Feelings influence risk perception. Broadly, risk can be thought of as the likelihood of an event occurring in some time frame, multiplied by the consequences should the event occur. People’s risk perception is influenced disproportionately by many things, including the rarity of the event, how much control they believe they have, the adverseness of the outcomes, and whether the risk is voluntarily or not. 

Data can be dredged or cherry picked. Evidence can be arranged to support one point of view. The question to ask is: ‘What am I not being told?’

JC comments:  I really like the idea behind this article:

What we offer is a simple list of ideas that could help decision-makers to parse how evidence can contribute to a decision, and potentially to avoid undue influence by those with vested interests.

I suspect this article will not be appreciated by scientists who are playing power politics with their expertise, or by advocates promoting scientism with cherry-picked evidence.

I picked 10 of the 20 tips that I thought were of greatest relevance to the climate change debate.

November 21, 2013 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science | , , , | 1 Comment

The IPCC Exposed

Corbet Report Episode 282

By James

The IPCC has released its latest assessment of the state of climate science, and this time it’s even more dire than their 2007 assessment. Global warming is “unequivocal” and humans are the “dominant cause” to a certainty of 95%. But how are these uncertainties calculated? And how does the IPCC process work anyway? Join us this week on The Corbett Report as we dissect the latest IPCC hype and examine the organizations processes and conclusions.

For those with limited bandwidth, CLICK HERE to download a smaller, lower file size version of this episode.

For those interested in audio quality, CLICK HERE for the highest-quality version of this episode (WARNING: very large download).

Documentation

CNN Hypes the IPCC AR4 Report
Time Reference: 01:14
BBC Hypes the IPCC AR4 Report
Time Reference: 01:25
ABC Hypes the IPCC AR4 Report
Time Reference: 01:33
Global Hypes the IPCC AR4 Report
Time Reference: 01:47
ABC Hypes the IPCC AR4 Report (again)
Time Reference: 02:08
Episode 110 – Climategate
Time Reference: 04:08
Climategate: Dr. Tim Ball on the hacked CRU emails
Time Reference: 04:16
Climategate is Still the Issue
Time Reference: 04:19
Crimatologists Found Guilty of Hiding Data
Time Reference: 05:04
Climate CONsensus, Carbon CONtrols, Truther CONvicted – Sunday Update
Time Reference: 32:56
The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert
Time Reference: 09:44
Author Donna Laframboise on The Bolt Report
Time Reference: 10:00
Interview 434 – Donna Laframboise
Time Reference: 13:09
CNN Hypes the IPCC’s AR5 Report
Time Reference: 13:52
Sky Hypes the IPCC’s AR5 Report
Time Reference: 14:17
Sky Hypes the IPCC’s AR5 Report
Time Reference: 14:25
Democracy Now Hypes the IPCC’s AR5 Report
Time Reference: 15:06
IPCC models getting mushy
Time Reference: 17:58
Judith Curry: Leaked IPCC report discussed in the MSM
Time Reference: 22:18
The 2009 Video Archive DVD
Time Reference: 33:24
Episode 087 – The UN Doesn’t Love You
Time Reference: 41:25
JudithCurry.com
Time Reference: 42:15
ClimateAudit.org
Time Reference: 42:18
WattsUpWithThat.com
Time Reference: 42:21
“Trees” by Red Tail Hawk
Time Reference: 44:50

September 29, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , , , , | 1 Comment